Ontario could host first urban national park | Finding Solutions | 2011 | Spring | Publications | David Suzuki Foundation
Photo: Ontario could host first urban national park

Credit: Karl Martin / www.ethervizion.com

By Jode Roberts

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Canadians are bound to wilderness through culture and history. But in our increasingly urban lives, nature often feels distant, and Canada's iconic national parks seem especially remote.

The Foundation is working to change this. As the first major project based in our new Toronto office, we are reconnecting residents of the Greater Toronto Area with nature by helping create Rouge National Park, North America's largest urban park and the first urban national park in Canada.

The proposed park would include more than 6,000 hectares of nationally and ecologically significant lands on Toronto's eastern border, including parts of Scarborough, Pickering, and Markham. It would also include the existing municipally managed Rouge Park, a 36-metre cliff, the region's best remaining wetland, and two National Historic Sites. The park would follow the Rouge River from its source in the Oak Ridges Moraine to Lake Ontario, giving millions of nearby residents, especially young families and new immigrants, access to wilderness.

Although Rouge Park is close to Toronto, most locals don't know about it. And as its funding dwindles and surrounding development continues to grow, many people are pressuring Parks Canada to take on its management. Foundation staff will work closely with Parks Canada, as well as community groups, farmers, and some local advocates who helped curb urban sprawl in the 1990s by creating Rouge Park.

The Foundation will conduct a natural capital valuation of the area, like we did for the Ontario Greenbelt. We'll assess the services that the ecosystem provides for free — like water filtration and carbon storage — and estimate how much they would cost to replace. This will give us a better idea of the ecosystem's economic value and provide a compelling argument for its protection.

We aim to make the Rouge watershed the urban jewel of the national parks system, with stable funding and governance to protect its rich ecological, cultural, and agricultural heritage. And for millions of GTA residents, it will be a reminder that nature is not a destination — it's in their own backyards.